On Sunday, Jan. 22, the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU will host a virtual event for the official installation and dedication of a Czech Torah scroll into its museum collection.
The Torah was donated to Florida International University more than a decade ago and was part of FIU's Steven and Dorothea Green Library archives. A Torah is a compilation of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, namely the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
“We are very happy to put this Torah on display for the benefit of our FIU students and our visitors and to share its important story in Jewish history,” said JMOF-FIU director Susan Gladstone Pastnerak.
Czech Torahs have a significant history and meaning within the global Jewish community. During Kristallnacht (Nov. 9-10, 1938) —also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass—Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked as Nazi attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the area known now as the Czech Republic. More than 7,000 Jewish businesses were damaged or destroyed, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. After World War II, surviving artifacts were found all over Europe, including the Czech Republic.
“It appeared the Nazis had wanted to preserve the relics of what they intended to have become an extinct culture. Torah scrolls are perhaps the most sacred of these items. Torah scrolls discovered after WWII, remind us of the fragility and endurance of Jewish life,” explains Oren B. Stier, professor of religious studies and director of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies & Jewish Studies Program at Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs.
The scroll was one of more than 1,500 sent to the Jewish Museum in Prague in 1942 for safekeeping. Then, in the early 1960s, British philanthropist Ralph Yablon bought the scrolls from the Czechoslovakian government and donated them to London’s Westminster Synagogue, which established the Memorial Scrolls Trust that loaned them to synagogues and other organizations around the world.
According to the Memorial Scroll Trust, it is believed that this Torah (numbered 797) was written around 1850 and came from the Klausen Synagogue—the oldest synagogue in Prague. During World War II, it was left at a collection point for Torahs in Strasnice at the New Jewish Cemetery Chapel. From there, it went to the Jewish Museum of Prague for safekeeping.
“It is truly an honor for us to add this Torah to our collection. The fact that it was made around 1850 and made its way across the ocean after surviving two world wars is astounding. At this point, its value is unquantifiable, and we are proud to give this Torah a home,” said Jacqueline Goldstein, JMOF’s curator.
The Trust, having assumed responsibility for the rescued Torah scrolls, works to this day to educate people globally about the history of Czech Jewry through their care of the scrolls and through their loans, whereby synagogues and Jewish institutions all over the world can apply to serve as custodians of individual scrolls and their stories.
To learn more about the Torah and to virtually attend the event on Sunday, which is part of FIU’s Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week, please visit jmof.fiu.edu.